Sunday, December 31, 2006

Death Valley Day 4

Sunday December 31 2006


My water bucket had ice in it again this morning. The girls saddled us up again, Mer for me and Gretchen for Raffiq. We met Jazzbo (with Nancy) and his buddy Quinn (with Aly, the little girl that rode with us on her cool horse Gus two days ago), and we took off down the road from Indian Ranch. A lot of horses had already left, and there were still plenty behind us in camp. Nobody’s in such a big hurry to leave on time by the fourth day, and let me tell you, ride camp is a quiet place at night when everybody is so tired! We walked a long way down the road to warm up, then we started trotting. Boy I felt even better today, my third day in a row, even after doing 100 miles already. After a while, Raffiq stepped wrong behind and pulled something again, just like he did the second day. Only the second day he worked out of it, but today he didn’t, so he and Gretchen turned around and went back to camp before we’d gone 2 miles.

I didn’t miss him today, because I felt so good. When he turned around, I wanted to keep going with my other buddies. Besides, I had figured out what we were doing today. We were going back to that cool little ghost town of Ballarat 7 miles away, where we were going to get to eat lots and lots and then get a limo ride back to camp. Me and Jazzbo and Quinn were having fun pulling our girls along real hard and trying to go faster to see who could get to Ballarat first to start eating, when we were joined by this wacko horse Spitfire. He was a Spitfire alright, wigging out, spinning, trotting sideways, throwing his head, half rearing, making his rider Debrah nervous. What a retard! I would never act like that. Well, okay, I did on our first day of riding, so bad that Mer got off me and handwalked me till I calmed down. But I wasn’t like that now that I’d been a hundred miles, and I saw how ridiculous that Spitfire was. He calmed down after about 5 miles and then he went off on his own.

We pulled and raced along the road till we got to Ballarat. I didn’t take a drink along the way or here at Ballarat because I was waiting for my rider to get off so I could start eating then get in the trailer and go home.

But for some reason at Ballarat we turned up this road and went up this canyon, and when I say we went up this canyon, I mean we went UP THIS CANYON. One of the girls said it was Pleasant Canyon, but I think I would add Un in front of the Pleasant.

It was a long rocky road that just never stopped going up. We walked uphill for 2 ½ hours and I was pooped by the time we got to this water trough. I’ve never walked that far that long uphill ever. I was too tired to even drink, and didn’t need to, since there were horses heading back downhill, and I knew I’d be going back down to Ballarat where there was water and lots of food and a limo ride waiting for me there.

Well. Do you think we turned around and went back to Ballarat with those other horses (who were going mighty fast downhill I might add)? No! We turned left and went UPHILL!

And we were just now getting to the hard part! This was a steep hill, and Jazzbo and Quinn and I were just huffing and puffing away. Sure I can do hills, but I discovered I don’t do hills like this. I just had no gas. I staggered behind the boys till we reached this gray mare that we’d walked with a while. Her rider Sarah tailed her halfway up to here! Wished Mer would get off me and do that, but she gasps like a fish out of water (like me!) when she has to lead me up hills. The gray mare was eating everything in sight, which in this high and dry desert canyon was nothing, and since the boys and I were too tired to keep climbing, I started snacking too.

That dry stuff tasted like straw, which was pretty good because I was really hungry, and I ate enough of it to put a little fuel in my tank. When we all started up the hill again, it just kept going and going. Every time we’d look up and think we were getting there (wherever There was), we’d see horses way up above us. We clambered up another half mile before we came to this REALLY steep very rocky hill, where there were a bunch of horses being led down, and we 4 stopped and stared. Our riders wanted us to go up THAT?! We were already too pooped. Quinn and I were panting like dogs, and Jazzbo’s leg was shaking. Our riders were swinging their ropes and kicking their legs and smooching, but we all stood there in a bunch. I said to Jazzbo, “I’m not going, you go.” Jazzbo said “I’m not going! You go.” Quinn said “I’m not going, you go!” The mare said “I’m not going, you go!” And none of us would move a foot up that hill.
So, our riders got off, and led us up that hill. That was a doozy of a hill. I thought I’d died and gone to hell today. All 8 of us staggered and panted and slipped and tripped and stopped for breaths, while more horses kept coming down the hill, slipping and sliding over the rocks because it was so steep. I couldn’t figure out why we were still going up when everybody was coming down.

Finally our walking riders started whooping, which usually meant something good was coming up, and sure enough, we reached the top of that monster mountain! I couldn’t believe I made it up that – guess I’m pretty tough after all, even if we were the last 4 horses in the whole ride going up there.

And do you think we’d turn around then and go back? No! We kept going! At least this part was a nice flat walk another mile or so, over snow, winding around high up on this mountain, with another nice view of a different steep and deep valley below us. The girls started whooping again, and we came to a stop where this nice man named Louie came out from a cabin and greeted us.

He brought jugs of water – but only for the girls! No water for us horses after all this way, and now I was really thirsty! Louie said he would’ve had water but he only knew a day ahead we were coming to visit. Louie lives up here and works in Sparrow’s mine in the winter. So I sipped water from Mer’s water bottle, she gave me a few slices of apple (like that was going to fill me up) and that was it, we turned around. All the way up here and no food? No water?

And then we started back, back the same way – down, down, down, 3 ½ hours back down to Ballarat. I did take one big huge long drink at that water tub that I wished I’d tried on the way up. Mer walked a lot of the way and I snacked on stuff I hadn’t even noticed on the way up.

Then Mer pulled out a Luna Bar and started to eat it while we were walking down, and I was so hungry I reached over and pulled it out of her mouth and hands with my lips. I liked it so much she gave me half of it, then half another one.

Finally we got back to Ballarat, and I got to eat and eat and eat, which we could’ve done this morning, if you ask me, instead of spending 8 hours going up and down that canyon mountain first.

And then I trotted out for the vet and I was limping a little bit in front because my leg was sore from all those dang rocks I was tripping over and that long long hard hill I went up and down, and then I went back to my hay pile and I ate and ate, and when my pals Jazzbo and Quinn rode off with their riders, I got my limo ride back, right to my trailer, where Raffiq was waiting and screaming for me, and I got my saddle off and got to roll and roll in the sand, and then I ate all night!

PLEASANT DAY, PLEASANT CANYON (by The Equestrian Vagabond)

Yes, it was another cold, beautiful desert morning!

Gretchen and I saddled up and met Nancy on Jazzbo and Ali on Nancy’s spare horse Quinn. We’d picked up the junior Ali out of the lunch stop on Day 2, when her sponsor’s horse went lame, and she finished with us that day. Her horse went lame at yesterday’s last vet check, so she was horseless for today until Nancy offered her spare horse to ride.

We took off down the road to Ballarat and Pleasant Canyon. Raffiq got a little hitch in his gitalong after a few miles, and where he warmed out of it on our 2nd day, he didn’t look like he’d warm out of this one, so Gretchen turned around and headed back to camp.

Spice was pulling my arms out on the road to Ballarat; she felt awesome today. I sure wished she’d drink before we headed up Pleasant Canyon, because it would be a while before we came to the spring water trough, but she turned up her nose at it.

And so we began our long walk up Pleasant Canyon. The speedy horses trotted up most of it (and trotted down), but we ride slower horses, so we were just planning on a long day’s trail ride.

Up the steep-walled canyon we rode, past old mines and shacks and rusted cars, past barrel cactus on the steep rocks that looked like heads watching us. There was lots of wild burro poop everywhere (in the Panamint Valley also) that we’d not seen before. It stayed chilly in the canyon and we soaked up the sunshine in the few spots that the winter sun could reach. We met a couple camped at the remains of a small mining town halfway up the canyon, and several jeeps passed us going up the road. Everybody was friendly, out enjoying the brilliant winter desert day.

When we got to the spring and bathtub, Spice still didn’t want any water – only rinsed her mouth – which didn’t thrill me, because, as the fast riders that passed us there on their way home said, “It’s 3 more steep miles.”

We were getting a special treat on this day this year; instead of climbing the pass into Death Valley National Park and doing a loop in the valley below, we were climbing up to Sparrow’s gold mine. Sparrow is famous for going to Congress to fight to keep his mine from being absorbed by Death Valley National Park. Sparrow won his dispute and kept his gold mine, which now stands just outside the Nat’l Park boundary.

It was a treat to do this, but boy, what a trail to get there. It wouldn’t have been so hard if we hadn’t climbed for 3 ½ hours already. The horses struggled to get up there, (we were joined by Sarah and her gray mare) and we 4 girls finally got off and led them up the last mile or so. The horses being led down the hill were slipping and sliding, and our horses looked longingly after them.

It was a great triumph for the 8 of us when we hit the top of the ridge, at 7500 feet – we’d climbed an amazing 6350 feet from the valley floor. From there it was another mile on a snowy road to Sparrow’s gold mine where Louie welcomed us with fresh spring water (every bit of it hauled up that road from the bathtub – could NOT imagine driving a jeep up that, riding horses was bad enough). And the view – stunning. You could see down the next deep canyon to the north of Pleasant Canyon, back down into the Panamint Valley, over the Argus range, the White Mountains, to the Owens Valley topped by the snow-covered Sierra Nevadas. 120 miles of clear sight, said Louie. A special place to visit, though I don’t know if I’d like to live up there by myself in the winter like Louie does!

We turned around, and headed back down, down, never-ending down, that rocky road back to the Panamint Valley. Thank goodness Spice took a big drink at that bathtub on the way down, and she snatched at anything she could eat (including my Luna bars!). She felt great and full of energy (and accomplishment) as we walked down that long road. We had the treat of seeing a mother and baby burro at the old mining camp halfway down the canyon.

We were just reaching Ballarat as the golden sun was slipping behind the Argus range to the west, and it cooled right down. Spice never once lifted her head from the hay and grain; she was in hog heaven.

When it came time to trot her out for the vet – uh oh! She was off in her left front. I hadn’t felt it at all at the walk, and maybe she’d just stiffened up while standing there and eating (I’d thrown a blanket over her), and maybe she’d have been sound if I’d kept her walking around, but, there was no point in seeing if she’d walk out of it and be able to trot the last 7 miles home. So we pulled, which was a big bummer, but not such a huge deal, because whether or not we got a completion, and no matter if we were 3 or more hours behind the winners, Spice conquered that mountain!

In all, about 50 riders started and only a handful pulled. Steve McCorkle won the ride.

A great dinner was served by the owners of Indian Ranch, and a great party was had to the sounds of a local band. Some of us wimped out early and had a few drinks with friends in a trailer, and were snoring before midnight hit.

Another fun installment of the Death Valley Encounter – see you there next year!

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